13th October 2011
The COPING project research is still at a relatively early stage, so comment upon the impacts of it at this point is premature. However, throughout the four nations in which the research is conducted, five main themes are beginning to emerge from the in-depth child-centred interviews.
Firstly, the role of schools is emerging as very important for most families. So far they are mentioned more frequently during the interviews than any other agency as being well placed to support both children and parents. The majority of parents and carers recognise a child’s right to know information about the imprisoned parent. Many of them have looked to school staff, including class teachers-for support on this topic.
Secondly, some parents-particularly mothers in prison appear to keep very regular-in some cases almost daily-contact with their children. Telephone contact appears crucial, as are letters and visits. Family days and visits seem to work well, and provide a higher quality of contact than normal visits.
Thirdly, the length of the prison sentence seems likely to emerge as a key variable in the child’s ability to cope. Where parents are in prison for shorter periods, children and parents often seem able to think about the future. In two instances where mothers are serving very long sentences; their children find the prospect of family re-unification distant and unattainable.
Fourthly, it seems grandparents have played a key role as care-givers. They often step in where the relationship between the parents is strained, or has broken down.
Lastly, some children seem to cope optimally with a parent being in prison. This seems always to be related to the quality of care they receive from their carer. For other children, having a parent in prison has a profound impact, even where they can manage to keep their family and school life going well. It appears that the age of the child is an important factor in this respect.
As future findings are verified, they will be released via policy briefings at an early stage as part of the project’s dissemination strategy.
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